I don’t know about you, but every time I turn on the Olympics, I’m tearing up (except maybe for the synchronized swimming…that just brings a smile to my face).
Last night, I was watching gymnast Simone Biles. Seeing her get on the beam – which BTW is the width of a cell phone – and execute an amazing routine was exhilarating; especially in light of her well-publicized mental health issues. Watching Biles make the landing and seeing her genuine, beautiful smile had me in a puddle. And then she got the Bronze to boot. It was an Olympic moment.
Many of us are having “moments.” We’re returning to in-person worship. That first time walking through the doors of the sanctuary after a long year-and-a-half is enough to have you (I don’t think I’m the only one) grabbing for a hankie.
Granted, there are some who are concerned – as they should be – about the pervasive and enduring nature of COVID. These folk may not be ready to come back yet.
However, there are others who have simply gotten out of the habit of going to church. Yes, they might have tuned into your on-line worship when it was convenient (1:00 a.m. worship, anyone?). But now that church is both in-person and on-line, how can you help people get back into the habit of coming to in-person worship?
1. Ensure that you are being as COVID-safe as possible. That means following your Conference and church COVID protocols. Have two COVID guidelines available to distribute. One with a basic overview – make these short, sweet, and easy to understand. The other should be full of details for those who want more information.
2. Give people a reason to return. What can your parishioners get from being in your physical space that they can’t from watching on-line? No doubt, a live sermon has different energy from watching one on-line. Seeing and greeting people (even behind a mask) is a treat. Depending on your COVID safety plan, how about bringing in Starbucks for the post-service crowd? Remind your congregation about the benefits of in-person worship.
3. Provide testimony. Share written stories about in-person worship in your newsletter, on Facebook, or have a beloved lay person invite people back during on-line worship. Photos of in-person worship provide an emotional cue and tell your story as well.
Want some more information on the psychology of habits that could impact your congregation? Read this chapter from How to Build Better Habits in Four Steps. Paul Franklyn’s article – which inspired this post – in Ministry Matters, Will the People Return?, has a curated list of articles from July 2021 about the impact of COVID on worship attendance and is well worth reviewing.
The Olympics (and my crying about them) will come and go. Guaranteed though, in-person worship is here to stay even though getting people back in the door may take some time. If Olympians like Simone Biles can prevail…you can too.